Every week, our writers take an in‐depth look at an artist, program or topic of interest to us. Spend some time with this week's classical music feature, or scroll through the extensive SFCV archive for insights in many music topics.
Here, SFCV celebrates the life of Nelson Mandela through the many songs that were written for him and about him. There are dozens from which to choose, and many of them became rallying signals in the fight against the apartheid regime of South Africa.More "Playlist to Celebrate and Honor Nelson Mandela " »
With a CD and an upcoming benefit concert, local musicians are focusing on the local scourge of homelessness.More "Marin Musicians Take a Musical Swing at Homelessness" »
In this season when classical music is part of popular tradition, there’s a Messiah round every corner, and you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Nutcracker dancer. So here’s your guide to the holiday concert season, nutcrackers, carols, and all.More "Light Up the Season: Holiday Music Picks" »
In Chicago, opera lovers are suddenly reveling in two new opera companies whose repertory expands and complements Chicago Lyric Opera.More "Letter From Chicago: Second City's Opera Boom" »
Boy choirs are having to adapt to the earlier onset of puberty, which often changes the voice before the musician can catch up.More "Precocious Puberty: The Loss of the Boy Soprano?" »
Youth Orchestra Conductor Donato Cabrera talks about the upcoming concert featuring Copland, Bloch, and Nielsen; how to build a rapport with the young musicians, telling a story through music.More "Donato Cabrera: Rolling in the Deep " »
The War Memorial is occupied by San Francisco Ballet, and the Opera summer season won't start until June 1 with Show Boat, and yet we found all manner of news about the company.
Show Boat Auditions
Apropos that summer-season opener, the company is holding auditions for supporting roles in Show Boat on April 4 and 5, especially "adolescent girls with strong singing ability," but also male and female actors for non-singing roles, such as:
- Young Kim: child actor/singer, Caucasian female, looks 8-10 years old.
- Steve/Manager: looks 30-40 years old, a conventionally handsome, strong leading-man, Caucasian male. Helpful to have stage combat skills; no singing required.
- Pete/Emcee: looks 30-40 years old, gruff and menacing, Caucasian male. Helpful to have stage combat skills, no singing required.
- Sheriff/Maitre’d: looks 30-40 years old. imposing "good ol’ boy" type, Caucasian male; no singing required.
- Irish landlady: mature Caucasian female with a good Irish accent; no singing required.
Auditions will be held on April 4 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and on April 5 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in a location revealed later to candidates, who must apply for an audition by e-mailing resume and headshot to Sean Waugh at firstname.lastname@example.org with “SB AUDITION” in the subject line. Only those selected for audition will receive a response.
Whimsical List-Making for Opera Future
There is virtually unanimous agreement that the planned retirement of David Gockley as general director of San Francisco Opera in 2016 doesn't bode well for the company, but there is still no idea about his successor, no favorites, no dark horses, no horses at all. One hope shared by many is that no corporation headhunters will mess this up.
A couple of weeks ago, while everyone was filling in betting sheets for the Academy Awards, I asked a few opera-maniac friends to suggest names for Overlord in the War Memorial. I myself first came up with nominations of Kurt Herbert Adler and Glynn Ross, but was later informed about their unavailability. Some of these suggestions seem to be in the same ballpark, but here it goes anyway; please keep your sense of humor active, but let me know if you have a serious idea:
Eva Wagner (she'll reduce her work in Bayreuth anyway, maybe in order to take care of the SFO)
Summing Up From the Top
Speaking of Gockley's retirement plans, although the announcement was made two months ago, it still strikes many people as a surprise. It is true, and after four decades of heading major opera companies — in Houston and here — Gockley will retire in July of 2016.
His mark will be left on the company even beyond then, with Board of Directors authorization (more likely, at their request) to program two more seasons after 2016. In the world of opera where contracts are signed years ahead, Gockley's successor will not have to face an impossible blank slate.
At the time of the season- and retirement-announcement, I asked Gockley what he is proud of and what he regrets during his tenure here so far. He answered instantly to the first question: "the Ring — the style in which we produced it, the environment being threatened by humans, the role of business and commerce ... it was the right way to go, and we had a great cast, with Nina Stemme, Brandon Jovanovich, Jay Hunter Morris, Mark Delavan, and more."
Gockley thought for a while about what he regretted, and finally said it was the cancelation of Peter Grimes. I suggested that it was obviously not his choice, the decision couldn't be helped under the financial conditions at the time (just as Les Troyens had to be postponed inevitably), so what would have been an error of his making? His reply:
I wish I hadn't so aggressively followed the plan to move into movie theaters. We didn't chose good partners, the income was divided between distributor and theaters, and not selling well, the project was doomed to failure. We needed five years to chart a new course, and it is promising one now.
Gockley was a pioneer in outdoor simulcast, long before introducing it in San Francisco, he produced what was probably the first large-scale free simulcast in Houston in 1996, with Cenerentola, featuring Cecilia Bartoli.
SFO HD Series at Sundance Kabuki
And, of opera moving into movie theaters: A series of high-definition films of three recent San Francisco Opera productions at the Sundance Kabuki Cinemas, which began with Tosca on March 3, will continue with Porgy & Bess on April 21, and Don Giovanni on May 26.
At $12, tickets are about half of the Met HD prices. These screenings mark the return of SFO presentations to the Kabuki, as part of the company’s Grand Opera Cinema Series, also shown in arts centers, independent film theaters, universities and other venues in the Western region of the country and around the world.
Porgy & Bess on DVD and Blu-ray
The same production of what is legally and necessarily called George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess shown at the Kabuki will now also be available beginning March 25 on a DVD/Blu-ray recording, released by EuroArts Music International.
Eric Owens and Laquita Mitchell turn in memorable performances in the title roles, John DeMain conducts, and Ian Robertson's SFO Chorus is at its rafters-shaking best. The production is by Francesca Zambello, originally for the Washington National Opera.
In a way, this version of the opera is coming home to Gockley, who originated it in 1976 (yes, 38 years ago), near the beginning of his eventually 34-year leadership of the Houston Grand Opera. After years of the work's presentation as a musical, this was a complete restoration of the Gershwins' original. It opened in Houston, and then on Broadway, going around the world, and recorded by RCA Records.
It marked the first time that an American opera company performed the work, not a Broadway or other musical troupe. It was based on Gershwin's original full score and did not incorporate the cuts and other changes which Gershwin had made before the New York premiere, nor the ones made for the 1942 Cheryl Crawford revival or the 1959 film version.
DeMain conducted then as he does in this SFO production that's now on DVD and Blu-ray. The production in 1976 won the Houston Grand Opera a Tony Award — the only opera ever to receive one — and a Grammy Award.
Porgy and Bess is the third DVD/Blu-ray release in San Francisco Opera’s collaboration with EuroArts Music International and Naxos of America, after Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick and Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia.
ODC/Dance, Brenda Way's perpetually peripatetic dance company returns home to San Francisco now and then — for 43 annual home seasons, to be exact — and beginning March 20, it will strut its always-new stuff at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.
Brenda Way and Co-Artistic Director KT Nelson have collaborated creating boulders and bones, inspired by the work of visual artist Andy Goldsworthy, and in collaboration with composer Zoë Keating, photographer and filmmaker RJ Muna, and lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols.
The evening-length work integrates elements of sculpture, video, movement, and music, influenced by a new stone installation of Goldsworthy in Northern California. Conceived in three parts, "the dance moves from the noise and effort of construction, to the stillness of completion, to the outpouring of energy."
boulders and bones combines time-lapsed video of Goldsworthy’s building process; shot by Muna, visual design by Nichols, and a new score by Keating, who uses a foot-controlled laptop to record layers of sound in the performance.
Program B of the home season includes Way and Nelson’s 2013 collaboration with Kate Weare, Triangulating Euclid, ODC associate choreographer Kimi Okada’s new duet Two If By Sea/; and Brenda Way’s 2008 work Unintended Consequences.
It took almost a half-year to move from suspicion to indictment and arrest, but on Feb. 28 former Peninsula Symphony Executive Director Stephen Jay Carlton was charged with embezzlement and grand theft, according to Los Altos Online.
The Music News report in October reported that nearly a half-million dollars disappeared from the orchestra's bank accounts, and Carlton was first said to have resigned, but the spokesman soon corrected that to "no longer with the organization."
Carlton is scheduled to appear in Palo Alto Superior Court April 8, to face nine charges: one for grand theft, three for forgery, one for identity theft, one for embezzlement, and three for state tax evasion. If convicted on all counts, he may be sentenced to the maximum of 18 years in prison. According to the felony complaint filed against Carlton, he has a prior voluntary manslaughter conviction in San Bernardino County, well in advance of his hiring by the orchestra.
Meanwhile, donations have kept the Peninsula Symphony operating through its 65th season. The next pair of concerts on March 21 and 23 in San Mateo and Cupertino entitled "Fountain of Youth."
Music Director Mitchell Sardou Klein conducts the world premiere of Double Concerto for Cello, Clarinet and Orchestra by composer/ clarinetist Jonathan Russell with him and cellist Nathan Chan as soloists. The also includes Grieg’s In Autumn, the Intermezzo, Nocturne and Wedding March from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night's Dream; Lalo’s Cello Concerto, with Chan, and Debussy’s Première rhapsodie for clarinet and orchestra, with Russell.
Russell is especially known for his innovative bass clarinet and clarinet ensemble compositions. He has received commissions from many ensembles and the San Francisco and Berkeley symphonies. His works are published by Potenza Music Publishing, BCP Music, and Peer Music, and his music has been recorded by the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo, the Kairos Consort, pianist Jeffrey Jacob, The Living Earth show, and Imani Winds.
Russell is a member of the heavy metal-inspired Edmund Welles bass clarinet quartet and the Sqwonk bass clarinet duo, which has commissioned numerous new works and released two CDs of new American bass clarinet duets. He is co-founder of the Switchboard Music Festival, an annual eight-hour marathon concert that brings together the San Francisco Bay Area’s creative and innovative composers and performers. He has served on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory, and has led workshops in composition and bass clarinet performance here and at Princeton, Catholic University, UCLA, Cornell University, Ithaca College, and elsewhere.
Chan, 19, started his career at age 2, catching the attention of S.F. Opera assistant conductor Sara Jobin, who helped Chan make his debut as a conductor at age 3, leading the San Jose Chamber Orchestra in a set of Mozart variations. This was followed by a guest appearance with the Palo Alto Philharmonic a year later, conducting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. At five, he began formal music lessons with cellist Irene Sharp, later studied with Sieun Lin at the S.F. Conservatory of Music, and subsequently performed as a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Chamber Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, the UK Northern Sinfonia, Albany Symphony, Marin Symphony, and Hong Kong Chamber Orchestra, among others.
In 2006, Chan appeared in The Music in Me, a documentary that aired on the HBO network and won the Peabody Award, leading to a performance in Carnegie Hall, where he caught the attention of Roberta Flack, who invited him to collaborate on her project of Beatles songs for Sony Records.
He currently attends the Columbia University-Juilliard School Exchange, studying with Richard Aaron at Juilliard.
The Pocket Opera is reprising its acclaimed production of Mozart's The Magic Flute, and company founder/director-pianist-conductor-translator-narrator Donald Pippin is happy about it:
Mozart’s last opera is unlike any he had composed before and unlike any, to my knowledge, that has come along since. It was his biggest success, which, had he lived, would have finally got him out of debt, incurred by such financial disappointments as The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte.
It is a magical, musical extravaganza, blending high seriousness and shameless buffoonery, set to incandescent music in almost every conceivable form: simple folk song, heartfelt melody, glittering coloratura, solemn fugue, and an aria that has been described as the voice of God.
And what a cast of characters! Many of them are paired off by way of contrast: the inscrutable Queen of the Night and Sarastro, the mysterious ruler who ushers in the light; Papageno, the likeable country bumpkin; and the villainous Monostatos, each of them searching for love; three mysterious ladies and three innocent but spunky youths; and the lovers, Pamina and Tamino, obviously made for each other. No contrast there.
The opera charmed its first audiences and has charmed audiences ever since. For us, it is a privilege to perform, and we hope and trust that for you it will be a privilege to attend.
Two Sunday matinees remain: March 16 at Berkeley Hillside Club, and March 23 at the Legion of Honor.
In principal roles: Svetlana Nikitenko (Queen of the Night), Erina Newkirk (Pamina), Jonathan Smucker (Tamino), Chelsea Hollow (Papagena), Jordan Eldredge (Papageno), John Bischoff (Sarastro), and Michael Mendelsohn (Monostatos). Nicolas Aliaga is stage director, Lisa Eldredge is costume designer.
Incidentally (or not), a three-part YouTube documentary about Pippin and the Pocket is still available on the Web.